Providence coach Ed Cooley

Steven Branscombe/USA Today Sports

Thinking out loud: Some thoughts on Team USA at Pan American games

John Rooke
August 09, 2019 - 1:47 pm

Thinking out loud…while wondering whatever happened to Raymond DeLeo…


  • For my money, the game of basketball – especially on the international level – changed forever when the former Soviet Union “defeated” the United States at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany.


  • Those Olympics are primarily remembered for a couple of things, neither of which was good.  It is, you may recall or as you may have read, when Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village.  ABC’s Jim McKay’s reporting to the world “they’re all gone” remains forever-stamped in my memory as an impressionable, and worldly-naïve 13-year-old.


  • As for the Games themselves, thanks to highly questionable, um, officiating in the Gold Medal game against the USSR, Team USA apparently had the game won in the end, only to see the Russians get – not one, but TWO – extra chances to score a winning, last-second basket.


  • Which, of course, they did.  Refs blowing calls or working with an agenda is nothing new.  Those players on the US team have never acknowledged the Russians ‘accomplishment’ in the referee-aided 51-50 victory…and to this date 12 silver medals lay in a Swiss vault, unaccepted, unappreciated and unloved.


  • I bring this up in reference to the Team USA experience this past week at the Pan American games in Lima, Peru.  Our international basketball fortunes forever changed with that ’72 defeat, leading us eventually to the inclusion of professional athletes in basketball and other one-time amateur domains.


  • And still, the US does not dominate the sport like it once did, back in those days.  It’s because the world has long-since caught up with Dr. Naismith’s invention from the Springfield “Y”.  So, the idea behind putting amateurs on the floor, up against other countries’ pro players, is not only ingenious but necessary to insure the future growth and appreciation of the sport.


  • Count me as a big proponent of USA Basketball’s decision to field the largely amateur group from the Big East Conference in this year’s Pan Am Games, a precursor for next year’s Olympics in Tokyo.  We’ve seen how it is often difficult to get the high-level pros to take part in games such as these…because they are unpaid, or because their bodies need the time away from a physically demanding sport.


  • Or, because they simply don’t understand patriotism.  Representing your country.  It is a generation that has grown up in a different world – not worse, but different – through little fault of their own.  The idea to turn at least a small slice of honor and patriotism over to those who might not otherwise have an opportunity is smart.


  • And very patriotic.  It can teach appreciation to a new generation.  It can lead to a sense of purpose.  All for one, right?


  • The Big East didn’t have its complete rostrum of athletes available, and yet if you watched Team USA compete last week, you pretty much knew the team would have finished right where they did…even if they had, say, Marquette’s preseason all-American Markus Howard playing with them.


  • Argentina, the gold medal victor, was deep and powerful.  Experienced.  Luis Scola has been playing the game for 20 years, has won Olympic gold and played for five different NBA teams.  The Argentines punished the US by nearly 40 points.  One or two players would not have made much difference…unless the game had been played at the beginning of the tournament, perhaps, rather than at the end.


  • Maybe the ball was dropped this year against Puerto Rico, a game in which Team USA led in the 4th quarter but couldn’t hold.  Maybe they were silver-worthy against other countries’ pros, but the bronze was a solid accomplishment for Ed Cooley and his team – which included Friars’ Alpha Diallo, Nate Watson, David Duke and AJ Reeves.


  • If you think the Big East is rough, tough and physical – and it is – spend time on the court in an international game with a country’s pride on the line and not much else.  It is a different game, as I learned as a teen in ’72, in 1984 first-hand working for the Los Angeles Olympic committee, and as Joe Hassett learned as a Pan Am team member in 1975 just three short years after the Munich fiasco.


  • It was an invaluable experience for the Friars and the rest of the Big East team.  The learned country before self.  Pride before vanity.  Medals at stake rather than cold, hard cash.   


  • It is a different game now.  But one that owes a tremendous amount of gratitude to those that played previously and experienced the highs and lows of yesteryear.  Remember this when the Big East battles become heated this winter.


  • Best guess – the history lessons and experience on an international floor could pay off when you need it most in the upcoming wars against Villanova, Georgetown, Xavier and others.  The Friars may have the Big East, USA Basketball and the history books to thank for the lessons they learned, and whatever good fortune they experience.


  • Don’t think the international experience isn’t already paying off.  Have you seen the caliber of player Providence is involved with in the 2020 recruiting class?  One or two – not to mention FIVE – Top 50 or 100 kids can put you in a different stratosphere.  Duke, Kansas and Kentucky-like.


  • The Friars may have outdone themselves this year with the Late Night Madness addition of having John Legend perform at the Dunk.  The website for ticket purchase by season ticket holders was so busy this week, it was hard to gain access.


  • Did you notice where the NCAA this week finalized its criteria for agents who want to represent athletes “testing” the NBA Draft waters?  Gotta have a college degree, gotta take an exam – in person – at the NCAA offices in Indy.  Failing both of these tasks will result in spending time in detention hall.


  • Texas guard Andrew Jones, who has missed much of the last two years fighting leukemia, is fully cleared for all basketball activities with last season’s NIT champs.  The Longhorns will be in Providence December 21st.


  • Gone before he gets there:  Transfer guard Eli Wright had transferred last year from Mississippi State to St. John’s, and sat out the season as per the rules.  He’s now headed out, again, looking for another opportunity…if he doesn’t age out of the process.


  • After slapping UConn, the NCAA has levied recruiting violation charges and two years’ probation at the Pac-12’s Utah, coached by one-time NBA journeyman and BYU-ex Larry Krystokowiak.  Krysko was also a one-time go-to guy as a live, postgame interview when I was with the San Antonio Spurs in the ‘80’s.


  • The guy could put on a show then…maybe he still can?


  • Really stunned by the news of Don Banks’ passing last weekend, while covering the Pro Football Hall of Fame game and ceremonies in Ohio.  We spent the past two seasons together as columnists for, and he had just taken an offer to become the new NFL-lead writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, primarily covering the Raiders.


  • Banks’ career included nearly two decades with Sports Illustrated before a layoff sent him our way in New England.  Good guy, helpful, very talented.  He was only 56.  Man, life is too damn short.


  • The Raiders’ debut on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” was not welcomed by Jon Gruden or GM Mike Mayock.  Nevertheless, the first episode was a hit – seen by more viewers than any episode since 2015.  Think the Patriots will ever agree to an appearance on the show?


  • Remember.  It’s just the preseason.  Nevertheless, overreaction is one of our best attributes and hobbies around here.


  • And if we’re going to overreact, Thursday night in Detroit is as good a reason as any, amiright?


  • Seriously though, could the Patriots have asked for any better a performance from their younger players?  Or even some of the veterans, like Brian Hoyer?  His performance almost gives you the thought the team would be alright in the event – gulp! – TB12 is not.


  • But let’s just say this, for the record:  Preseason football is like fools’ gold.  It’s a mirage.  It’s the Easter Bunny.  It is, as the saying goes, what it is…relatively meaningless football where (mostly) UDFA’s are trying to earn a roster spot or make a name for themselves, and everyone else tries to stay healthy.


  • The hype train, however, may be real for one UDFA – receiver Jakobi Meyers.  We told you here a week or two ago he would at the least keep alive the Patriots’ record of 15 straight seasons with one UDFA making the final roster.


  • It will be 16 straight.  And Meyers isn’t the only free agent with a shot.  Still like safety Malik Gant. LB Terez Hall.  And TE Andrew Beck, who was also an H-back at Texas and is playing fullback with the Patriots to increase his versatility.  Someone, through their play or through an injury to another, will reach the final roster.


  • Next week, after a couple of days back in Foxboro, the scene shifts to Nashville, Tennessee for practices against the Titans.  I’ll wager Mike Vrabel has his guys ready to prove something…but again, it’s only preseason.  Just sayin’.


  • Who needs to be on high alert?  Braxton Berrios needs repeatedly solid performances to stamp a roster spot.  Obi Melifonwu on defense, along with Duke Dawson.  Punter Ryan Allen has his hands full with Jake Bailey’s big leg.  It’s going to remain ‘put up or shut up’ time for these guys over the next 3-4 weeks.


  • Not for nuthin’, but nine sacks for that defense?  Nine?  What in the wide, wide world of sports is goin’ on here?


  • Is it possible to transfer some of that aggression and passion (or care?) to the Red Sox?     


  • Nice to see Chris Sale look as if he can still pitch a little, but the 3-0 shut out win Thursday came against an Angels’ team that had lost 10 of 12 coming into the series.  So, there’s that.


  • But I liked the crispiness of that one.  Two hours and 16 minutes?  What was that?


  • It was baseball the way it is supposed to be played, in case you’ve forgotten.  Because I have.


  • But before you get giddy over the prospects of an August and September surge into the postseason, I’ll remind you of series losses to the Orioles, getting swept by the Yankees in a 4-game set, and lowly Kansas City taking these Sox to extras in Game Three after a split of the first two last week.


  • Baltimore and Kansas City have combined records of 79-151 going into Friday.  I ain’t changing my mind on these guys unless wins start coming at the expense of teams who also win.  But 5-and-a-half back in the wild card with roughly six weeks to play?


  • Doable, even if improbable.  That’s a game per week to make up.  The question is, does this team have it in them to make that charge?  I doubt it, since we haven’t (yet) seen evidence to the contrary.


  • My buddy “Big E” sez he was in line with his granddaughter the other day, buying fabric for a surprise gift she was giving to her grandmother.  When she asked how much it would cost, the clerk at the register said, “only one kiss per yard, young lady!”


  • Without missing a beat, Big E’s granddaughter replied, “Great!  I’ll take ten yards, and grandpa will pay the bill.”


  • Hearing that revenue sharing among universities and their marketing/TV/media rights’ holders is trending more toward a true partnership, rather than a simple money-grab of a guaranteed sum paid out to schools. 


  • For instance, Learfield/IMG College owns the media rights to PC, URI and Brown in Rhode Island, where each school is currently paid a pre-arranged annual fee based on its contract with the company.


  • But rather than receiving a lump sum from Learfield, UConn, Texas and USC (to name three) are working on a percentage basis with limited guarantees if sales go poorly.  Now you may see one reason why the Huskies really pushed for their Big East reunion.


  • With the launch of the ACC Network just a couple of weeks away, is anyone around Boston College interested?  Five of the nation’s largest distributors – Comcast, Dish, AT&T, Charter/Spectrum and Cox – have yet to agree to carry the channel. 


  • National carriage deals, however, are in place with DirecTV, YouTube TV, Hulu and PlayStation Vue. 


  • Streaming rights for college programs without major TV deals are gaining traction in the marketplace, with FloSports picking up UMass and New Mexico State to broadcast their home football games. 


  • The Sports Business Journal also reported this week UConn football could be a candidate for FloSports next year, once they join the Big East in all other sports.


  • Watch for a new branding campaign to start rolling at Brown and Harvard before the football season kicks off next month.  “An Unrivaled Experience” aims to get Ivy athletes more recognition for their on-field accomplishments.


  • I spent this week on the beach, reading ex-Friar hoop beat writer Mike Stanton’s “The Prince of Providence” (okay, so I’m late to the party) and got to wondering about Raymond DeLeo – the guy allegedly roughed up by Buddy Cianci for having an affair with Buddy’s estranged wife?


  • DeLeo steadfastly maintained his innocence to Cianci and anyone else who brought up the incident that led to the former Providence mayor’s first resignation from office in 1984.  Cianci, meanwhile, said in his book “Politics and Pasta” that the confrontation “changed my life dramatically.”


  • DeLeo was a Bristol, RI resident, a grad of old Colt Memorial High School and a 40-plus year Patriots’ season ticket holder.  He passed away in 2013 at age 89.


  • @bkeough1 tweeted this week: “Need to give a lot of credit to @SetonHallMBB and Coach Willard for agreeing to participate with a trip to Italy the week they Get back from #Lima2019. Big time.”


  • 1000% agreed, Brandon.  Others chose to go on their foreign tours and previous plans, which was their right and maybe best for their programs.  But having Myles Powell put on his cape with an “S” on it was invaluable in Team USA medaling.  And he will be a major league handful for teams to slow down next season.


  • Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and on Facebook, ...


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